The Microscopic Septet explores the blues almost exclusively on its eighth album. Soprano saxophonist Phillip Johnston and pianist Joel Forrester, the band’s leaders since its founding in 1980, have written a dozen blues-form tunes that manage to sound nothing like one another. One of the 12, to be fair, is a reharmonized version of “Silent Night,” and a 13th song, “I’ve Got a Right to Cry,” is in fact not a blues but a 1950s hit (by Joe Liggins and the Honeydrippers) that fits right in nonetheless.
Like the Microscopic Septet’s other records, this one is a heck of a lot of fun. Every song radiates enthusiasm, from the happy Sidney Bechet tribute “Don’t Mind If I Do” (with its wonderful piano accent phrases) and the slow-drag Duke Ellington tribute “12 Angry Birds” (featuring a sultry Johnston solo) to the blues march of “Migraine Blues” and the bebop of “Quizzical.” The disc’s first tune, “Cat Toys,” is a cool jam that allows alto saxophonist Don Davis and tenor saxophonist Mike Hashim to turn in very different solos over a soul-jazz groove. Indeed, though the Microscopics have long been the Johnston/Forrester show, the other musicians get their moments. Among the most notable is Dave Sewelson’s bone-rattling bari-sax solo on “Migraine Blues,” where his fevered blowing extends out over top of the theme. One little criticism: The album would be stronger without the dry, dull and too-long revision of “Silent Night.”